The moral color of the Obama administration’s call for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down is a bit unnerving. First of all, today’s announcement is being hailed as huge news, but it barely differs from previous statements that Assad must reform or get out of the way, that he is “not indispensable,” that he has “lost legitimacy.” So, the rhetoric is about the same, and the policies are only slightly more pitted against the regime: an executive order with harsher sanctions and a suggestion that the International Criminal Court consider Assad for crimes against humanity. Again, not big changes, but the statement is being made out as if Washington is just fed up with Assad’s brutality, which they could have easily tolerated had politics dictated so, as other U.S.-supported atrocities clearly demonstrate.
The air of moral authority against such violence is giving Washington an opportunity also to shore up anti-Iran sentiment, singling out the Iranian regime as the only one still siding with Assad. Well, that’s actually not true: as far as has been reported at this point, Russia is still insisting on its right to continue its arms sales to Syria. Clinton did mention this too (although the media focuses on her more prominent Iran comment), but the virtuous call for Assad to go can’t exactly be couched in terms of stopping arms sales to the brutal regime. After all, the U.S. arms trade to Arab tyrannies actively suppressing pro-democracy protests is a favorite hobby of the Washington elite. (See overall facts and figures and some recent sales).
Update: Assad has reportedly told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that military operations against Syrian people have stopped, although Assad has previously made such comments, only to have people blink and go right back to shelling cities and towns.